Alexander C. Rutherford had the distinction of being Alberta’s first Premier. He was known for his strong support of public education, particularly the University of Alberta, and his active involvement in community affairs.
Alexander Cameron Rutherford was born on February 2, 1857, on a farm in Osgoode Township, Carleton County, Canada West (Ontario). He was the son of James Rutherford and Elizabeth Cameron and was a Baptist.
Rutherford was called to the Ontario Bar in 1888 and practised law for ten years in Kemptville, Ontario, as a junior partner in the law firm of Hodgkins, Kidd, and Rutherford. On December 19, 1888, he married Martha ‘Mattie’ Birkett, daughter of William and Elizabeth Birkett of Ottawa, Ontario. Alexander Rutherford and his wife Mattie had three children: Cecil Alexander, Hazel Elizabeth, and Marjorie Cameron.
As well as serving as Premier, or President of Executive Council, during Alberta’s First Legislature, Alexander C. Rutherford was also Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Education. His Liberal Government established the legislation necessary to make the transition from territorial to provincial status, started a public telephone system, expanded roads and railways within the Province, constructed a number of public buildings, and established a teacher-training facility and the University of Alberta. As well, he attended the Provincial Premiers' Conference in Ottawa in 1906 and was a delegate to the Federal Conference on Education, which was organized by the League of the Empire and held in London, England in 1907.
In the general election of 1909, the Rutherford Government was re-elected with another strong majority and Alexander C. Rutherford continued to serve as Premier, Provincial Treasurer, and Minister of Education. However, on May 26, 1910, he resigned from Cabinet. His government had become badly divided, primarily as a result of its decision to guarantee the bonds of railway companies, in particular those of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. He continued to serve in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta as a Private Member.
In 1911, he initially let his name stand for the federal Liberal nomination for Edmonton, but later withdrew it and, in 1913, he ran as the Independent Liberal candidate in the provincial general election for the electoral district of South Edmonton, but was unsuccessful.
Following his electoral defeat in 1913, Rutherford returned to the practice of law with the firm Rutherford, Jamieson, and Grant. In 1916, he was appointed Alberta Director of the National Service Commission and immediately after the First World War, he served as a member of the Loan Advisory Committee of the Soldier Settlement Board. From 1927 until his death in 1941, he was Chancellor of the University of Alberta.
Rutherford had many business associations. At various times, he was president of the Edmonton Mortgage Corporation, vice-president of the Great Western Garment Company, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canada National Fire Insurance Company, the Imperial Canadian Trust Company, the Monarch Life Assurance Company, and the Great West Permanent Loan Company.
Alexander C. Rutherford was actively involved in religious, fraternal, and community organizations. A list of some of these associations follows: the Ancient Order of United Workmen; Kemptville Baptist Church Young People’s Union (president); South Edmonton Athletic Association (president, 1896); Order of Free and Accepted Masons (Worthy Master, Acacia Lodge, 1897); South Edmonton Agricultural Society (auditor, 1897); South Edmonton Literary Institute; Edmonton District Butter and Cheese Manufacturing Company (Secretary, 1899); deacon, trustee, and auditor of First Baptist Church, Edmonton; Lord’s Day Alliance (vice-president, 1905); the Baptist Convention of Western Canada (president, 1908); Baptist Union (1911); Senate of the University of Alberta (1911-27); Advisory Board, Y.M.C.A. (1913-41); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (First Exalted Ruler, 1914); St. Andrew’s Society (president, 1915-18); Edmonton Branch, Historical Society of Alberta (president, 1919-41); McGill Alumni Association (president, 1922); Edmonton Club; Mayfair Golf and Country Club; and the Northern Alberta Pioneers’ and Old-Timers’ Association.
Alexander C. Rutherford's service to his community and the Province of Alberta has been recognized in many ways. In 1911, a new elementary school in Edmonton was named after him; in 1951, a University of Alberta library was named in his memory; and in 1954, a mountain which is located in Jasper National Park was named after him. A list of some of his other honours follows: honourary president, Edmonton Football Club (1895); patron, Strathcona Curling Club (1902); honourary president of the Strathcona Baseball Club, Curling Club, and Football Club (1903); Honourary Doctor of Laws, McMaster University (1907); Honourary Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto (1907); Honourary Doctor of Laws, University of Alberta (1908); King’s Counsel (1913); Honourary Colonel of the 194th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (1916); Honourary Life Member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1919); Honourary Doctor of Laws, McGill University (1931); King’s Jubilee Medal (1935); King’s Coronation Medal (1937); and honourary president of the Canadian Authors’ Association. He was also a Fellow of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Colonial Institute of London, England.
During his lifetime, Rutherford collected books about Canada. His fine collection of Canadiana now constitutes part of the collection of the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta.
Alexander C. Rutherford died on June 11, 1941, at Edmonton, Alberta, and was buried in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in that city. In 1973, his restored home at 11153 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, was opened to the public. From 1912 to 1938, this was the site of the annual Founder’s Day Tea, which was originated and hosted by Alexander C. Rutherford and was attended by the students and staff of the University of Alberta.